Thursday, 16 October 2008

Occupational Health, Why employ someone with a disability?

Why employ someone with a disability, who needs job modifications and adjustments, if you don’t have to?

Employers are concerned about

Employees take time off for medical appointments
Making expensive adjustments to the workplace
Having to spend time on peoples’ problems that might be better spent getting on with the business
Employees calling in sick at the last moment
Other employees thinking that someone is taking advantage
Employees use sickness to cover up their poor performance

On the surface, it may look more expensive to employ someone with a "disability" .
Ask yourself

1) Which costs the business more – a stroppy employee or a disabled employee?

Who would you prefer?
a) someone who appreciates your flexibility and your human side or
b) someone stroppy who wants to take you for everything they can

Of course choices are rarely black and white but most people appreciate it when their boss goes out of his or her way to make life better for them.

2) If you just pick winners are you likely to win?
Thirty years ago Belbin showed that a team of winners does not win. The best teams are mixed groups. When everyone is highly competitive, that is a winner, employees spend their competing against each other instead of outwitting the competition.

3) Is it better, for example, to adjust a rota or treat the workforce as automatons?
Rotating shift systems are bad for circadian rythms. How can a diabetic manage his blood sugar well when his sleep wake cycle keeps changing and what about the insomniac who can’t sleep at night? If your manager doesn’t like helping people work for you, may you have the wrong manager.

One thing is certain, if you want motivated employees, someone who has struggled with life is likely to go further than someone who has had it easy. One thing is certain, if disabled people are not highly motivated, they go nowhere, apart from outpatients.

Employers concerns

1) Yes, an employee with a disability or medical condition will need to go to the doctor more often than someone who does not. And yes, they are entitled to attend their medical appointments. However, you do not have to pay them to visit the doctor. Your employee can either make up the time or to forego the money.

2) Yes you have to make reasonable adjustments but not expensive adjustments that are beyond the reach of your business. For example, you do not have to employ someone to help a blind person read scripts but there is speaking software for computers and it may be reasonable to make the appropriate modifications, it may not. It depends on the job.

3) It may take more time to get someone with a disability set up but these people are used to coping with adversity and with the coming crisis, are you better off with employees who expect everything served up to them on a tray, or with people who are able to sort problems out?

Employees calling in sick at the last moment Other employees thinking that someone is taking advantage


Yes, you do have to employ someone with a Disability because that is what the law says. You do have to make reasonable adjustments but that is all. Occupational Health helps you decide what, from a medical perspective, reasonable adjustments might be. It is up to you to decide whether or not you can comply and whether the adjustments are reasonable.

If for example, you think the adjustments are unreasonable and can show that. For example, you are a haulage company, with no light duties where everyone is expected to help out, it is unreasonable to expect you to employ someone who cannot lift more than 10kg and who has no office skills.

But if you have jobs in the warehouse, and that same employee is capable of doing them and wants the job, then you do have an obligation to help them. The spirit of the law is about being reasonable. And if you are reasonable, and can show that, you will not have problems employing the best person for the job.

Copyright Dr Liz Miller, Well and Working Ltd

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